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Hey Bear!    


Dec 06, 2016

By Luke Andersson


This was our unoriginal call to bears as we clumsily trudged upriver. The idea was to announce our presence and thus avoid surprising the bears that fish in these rivers during the salmon spawning run. The last thing you want to do is catch a bear by surprise. Haven’t you seen The Revenant?

“Heyy Bear!” Every minute or so. 

This was the recommended call in the “Bear Aware” safety video we all had to watch before field work. I spent three years studying salmon and bear interactions in the Great Bear Rainforest without a single bear sighting. To quantify foraging behaviour, I studied the salmon carcasses that were left behind by bears. By analyzing patterns in the type of salmon that bears caught and how much they ate of each, I discovered that these bears hunted and fed more selectively in less complex streams. There were hundreds of fresh, bear-killed salmon lying abandoned on the banks; some so fresh that they were still flopping about despite deep bite marks in their flanks. These bears were close. But invisible. Over the years, my call shifted from: 

“Hey Bear!”  Translation: Go away! 


“Hey Bear!” Translation: Reveal yourself!

I successfully defended my thesis on salmon and bear interactions despite never having seen bears hunting for salmon. Okay, from trucks and boats I’ve seen a few bears walking in the forest and scrounging the intertidal zones of Bamfield, BC. But I have never seen one of the many bears doing what I studied… interacting with, chasing and hunting spawning salmon. 

Cut to the summer of 2016. I’ve gratefully accepted an amazing opportunity to work with the Moore Lab as the lab manager. In August, I helped MSc student Colin Bailey with his research. We were collecting mature pink salmon, by angling from rivers in Northern Vancouver Island, to run his experiments. 

She emerged from the treeline on the beach where we were fishing. A black bear, but majestic, gnarly, curious, sniffing, huge, close, really close.


“Heyyyy BEAR!”

I still couldn’t think of anything more original to yell. 

Another bear appeared.

“HEYYY BEARRRR” we yelled, as both bears hesitated on the edge of a boulder across the narrow river mouth. They were hungry and torn between an easy fishing spot and our presence. As competitors fishing for salmon, were we friend or foe? Here we stood, on our hind legs: curious, babbling monkeys with rubber skin, brimmed foreheads and shiny, framed eyes. Fortunately, they don’t know what to make of us, and perhaps out of pity or good sportsmanship, they decide to back away and return to their patrol of the upper river. A wave of gratitude swept over me. Finally, the bears had revealed themselves! 

“Hi bear”

Bears catching salmon in the river became a common sight over the next few weeks. And since then, my travels in the field have lead to dozens of spectacular bear sightings (on one mountain, we came across nine in a single day!). A lesson in patience perhaps. I must admit, I am still absolutely awe struck each time I cross paths with one of these magnificent animals. And I’m very thankful that I haven’t yet caught one by surprise. 

Bear Sniffing for Salmon

Bear Sniffing for Salmon
Bear Sniffing for Salmon
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